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Staying safe and government guidance

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Coronavirus and school

This page tells you what we know about the risk of children catching and spreading coronavirus, the risk at school, and what you can do.

School closures, January 2021

In most areas of the UK, schools are only open to vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Other children are learning remotely. For more information about the current situation with schools in the different countries of the UK, follow these links:

England: Restricting attendance during the national lockdown: schools

Scotland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): school re-opening arrangements for January 2021

Wales: Return to school and college arrangements following Christmas break

Northern Ireland: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice on schools, colleges and universities

What we know about children and coronavirus

Page last updated: 13 January 2021

Schools are closed to most students in the UK as of January 2021. The government states that this is not because schools are not safe places, but rather to help lower the number of contacts between households because of the steep rise in coronavirus cases.

Scientists are learning more about coronavirus all the time. There is still some uncertainty about how coronavirus affects children and young adults, but from the research and evidence available, this is what scientists have found so far:

1. Children experience a milder disease than adults

Children often don’t show any symptoms, or they have mild symptoms, so the infection can go unnoticed. Very few children develop severe or life-threatening disease. [3] [34] [35] [36] [37]

2. Children may be less likely to catch coronavirus

There have been far fewer confirmed cases of coronavirus in children than in adults. Children make up between 1 and 8.5% of the total number of cases in reports, yet they account for over a quarter of the world's population. [1] [2]

Adults are more likely to show symptoms and therefore be tested and reported. But in countries that have conducted widespread community testing, fewer infections have been found in children. [4] [5] [8] [30] [35] Some studies have found that in a household, children are less likely than adults to catch the virus from someone they live with [6] [7] [22] [42]. Studies of outbreaks in schools have also found that children are less affected than adults (see below).

A recent report from Imperial College London suggests that the new strain of coronavirus (the Variant of Concern or VOC) which appeared in the UK last summer or autumn affects more young people under 20 than the original strain. [43] There is still a lot we don’t know about the VOC and how it will affect the population, and how it has affected schools. [41]

3. Children may be less likely to pass coronavirus on to adults (although more research is needed)

Although children are much less affected by coronavirus, we don’t fully understand their role in carrying and transmitting the virus.

There is limited research into child to adult transmission, although it seems to be less common than adult to adult or adult to child.

There is some evidence to suggest that children may be less likely to pass on coronavirus. Studies on school outbreaks (see below) suggest that children are less likely to pass on the virus. Several studies of families who’ve had coronavirus have also found that the children were unlikely to be the first case in the family. [21] [42] Other studies have found that people with no symptoms were less likely to pass on the virus than people with symptoms. [22] Children often have no or very mild symptoms.

A recent study commissioned by NHS England found no increased risk of infection for adults living with children aged 11 and under, and a small increased risk for adults living with 12- to 18-years-olds. There was no change following school closures, so whether or not the children in the household were attending school didn’t seem to change the level of risk. [39]

However, other studies that have found that children and young people have passed on the virus to other people, sometimes more than adults. [23] [24] A UK government report from December 2020 suggests that children aged 12 to 16 are more likely to introduce infection to the household than children over 17. [35] Like many aspects of coronavirus, this remains an area of uncertainty.

4. There may be differences between younger and older children

In those under 18, research that looks at different age groups is limited and mixed.

A UK government report published in December 2020 reported that positive coronavirus tests were highest amongst secondary school age children, and that teenagers aged 12 to 16 are more likely to pass infection on to their households. [35] Other research backs up the finding that infection is more likely in teenagers, or in children over 10, than in younger children. [25] [26] [33]

However, one study found that younger children had higher infection rates during school outbreaks, [27] and another reported that children passed the virus on more the younger they were. [28]

In an analysis of school outbreaks in England after the first national lockdown, primary schools were more likely to have outbreaks and higher infection numbers, but these schools had more pupils back than secondary schools, and not as many secondary schools were included in the data. [29]

Again, this is an area of uncertainty that we will continue to learn more about, particularly as data is gathered on the new coronavirus strain known as the Variant of Concern (VOC).

What we know about coronavirus and schools

There is an ongoing debate about the role that schools play in the spread of coronavirus. Here’s a summary of the risks based on the evidence we have so far.

The risk of your child catching coronavirus at school

Many studies have been done investigating outbreaks at schools around the world.

Each school is different in its infection control measures, and in disease levels in the local community at the time. Studies are also usually small, so can’t be taken as conclusive.

Early studies showed outbreaks in schools around the world to be fairly unusual. More recent data from the UK suggests that when schools are open they play a role in the transmission of coronavirus, particularly in secondary schools. But it is difficult to judge whether infections have specifically been passed on in school, rather than reflecting what’s happening in the wider community. [35]

Outbreaks often affect small numbers of students and teachers. A recent survey of 105 UK schools found that while over half of these schools reported current infections, numbers ranged between one and five cases. [38] In some studies, children with coronavirus did not pass it on to anyone else. [13] [14]

Generally speaking, it is thought that during school outbreaks:

  • children are less likely than adults to catch the virus
  • children are less likely to pass on the virus
  • the virus is more likely to spread from adult to adult, and sometimes from adult to child
  • transmission from child to child is less common.
  • more significant outbreaks have happened where social distancing measures were not followed (e.g. crowded classrooms) and where children had contact with higher numbers of other children.

[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [29] [31] [32] [35] [38]

Although there are many unknowns, we do know about things that help prevent outbreaks and spread – social distancing, good hand hygiene, smaller classes and ‘bubbles’, contact tracing, and self-isolation of anyone with symptoms.

The risk if you or another adult in your household has blood cancer

The governments of the UK see shutting schools as a last resort, because of the significant educational and social benefits of regular attendance in person. Closing schools to all students except vulnerable children and the children of key workers is just one part of containing the spread of infection locally.

But it’s understandably worrying to send your child to school if you or another adult in your household is in the clinically extremely vulnerable group.

If this applies to you, and you are offered the chance to send your child to school either now or in the future, think carefully about the risks. Here are some things to consider:

  • Remember that not all adults with blood cancer have the same risk levels. Find out more about understanding your level of risk and talk to your healthcare team about your personal circumstances.
  • Have you had the coronavirus vaccine and have you spoken to your healthcare team about your risk of infection after you have had one or two doses of the vaccine?
  • Talk to your child’s school about the measures they have put in place to maintain social distancing.
  • Follow strict hygiene practices at home – see 'Things you can do at home' below.
  • Talk through your concerns with our Support Services Team.
  • Read other parents' views or talk to others on our online forum thread: Shielding and children returning to school
  • See our information on Mind and emotions for ideas on coping with anxiety.

If you’re a teacher worried about your own risk of returning to school, see our information about your rights and talking to your employer.

The risk if your child has blood cancer

Some children with blood cancer are expected to go to school, even if they were previously shielding. Other children are still considered too vulnerable to go to school, but for them, this probably would have been the case even before coronavirus, as their risk of serious illness from any infection is high. Healthcare teams will continue to give parents guidance on this.

Evidence about the risk of coronavirus to children with cancer suggests that the impact is less severe than previously thought. A recent UK study suggests that children with cancer who contract COVID-19 are not at any more risk of serious infection than children in the general population. [40] Medical guidance now groups children into two risk groups:

  • Vulnerable – Can attend school, as long as social distancing and hygiene measures are followed.
  • Extremely vulnerable – Should not attend school, but their siblings can.

Find out more about which children with blood cancer are in each group.

Advice that some children with cancer can return to school is based on evidence that:

  • children are far less likely than adults to get COVID-19 infection
  • the risk of severe COVID-19 disease in children is very low
  • the risk of severe COVID-19 disease in children with cancer across the world remains low
  • children do not spread COVID-19 like adults and child-to-child transmission is rare.

However, this is still a worrying time for many parents of children with blood cancer. If schools are open, your child's treating team is best placed to advise on whether your child can go to school safely. Speak to them about your child's level of risk and what you can do to limit the risks – they are there to help you through this.

Here are some other things that can help:

  • Talk to your child’s school about the measures they have put in place to maintain social distancing and hygiene – they should be happy to explain them.
  • Follow strict hygiene practices at home – see 'Things you can do at home' below.
  • Remember there are lots of other ways you are already protecting your child, by following social distancing guidelines in your daily lives.
  • Talk to us – we’re here to listen and support you.
  • Talk to other parents on our online community forum.
  • See our information on Mind and emotions for ideas on coping with anxiety.

For more information, see the guidance and data about children with cancer and coronavirus from CCLG.

CLIC Sargent have also produced some information to support schools with pupils with cancer.

When schools are open

What schools can do to protect pupils and families

The four governments of the UK produce guidance for schools on how to operate safely during lockdown, and when schools are fully open. There are variations in the guidance across the different countries, but the principles are the same.

The exact measures will depend on things like the age of the children and the layout of the school. For specific information about your child’s school, contact the school directly. They should be willing to discuss any concerns you have and may share their risk assessment with you if you ask.

We’ve summarised here some of things UK schools are doing to protect pupils, staff and families:

  • Minimising contact – This could involve dividing children into groups and keeping these groups apart, arranging classrooms differently, limiting movement around the school, setting up one-way systems for arrival and leaving, and staff maintaining their distance from children and each other as much as possible.
  • Cleaning hands – Children will be encouraged to clean their hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitiser much more often than usual, especially when they arrive at school, around break-time, before and after eating, and if they move between rooms.
  • Catch it, bin it, kill it – Schools will encourage children to catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue, bin the tissue, then clean their hands.
  • Extra cleaning – Schools are expected to arrange more regular cleaning of shared areas and toilets, particularly surfaces that are touched more often. Toys and play equipment will also be cleaned more often.
  • Managing pupils who are unwell – Schools must make clear that anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should not come to school. Anyone who becomes ill at school will be isolated until they can be sent home. Staff will wear PPE (personal protective equipment) when looking after children who are unwell.
  • Engaging with health protection services – Schools must make sure they understand how to respond if they have confirmed cases of coronavirus and must engage with contact tracing services.
  • Face coverings – The rules on face coverings at school vary between the countries of the UK, but you can find the latest guidance on government websites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Ways to protect yourself at home

You and others in your household, including children, can lower the level of risk by following these hygiene rules:

  • Regularly wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) with soap and water. Wash your hands straight away if you’ve been out anywhere, including to school.
  • Use hand sanitiser when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Continue to avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects like door handles, and kitchen and bathroom surfaces.
  • Consider keeping separate towels, crockery and cutlery for anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

School outbreaks

If a coronavirus case is confirmed at a school, the school should notify the local health protection team. Anyone else who has been in recent close contact with the case will need to self-isolate. This is a precautionary measure to stop the spread. Health protection teams will guide schools in managing confirmed cases, advise if the number of cases or level of symptoms could suggest an outbreak, and tell them what other measures to take if any.

Government guidance says that if a child or young adult in your household has to self-isolate because of a confirmed coronavirus case at school, you and other members of your household don't have to self-isolate unless the child or young adult develops symptoms. So it's possible that although one child has to stay home because of a confirmed case in their class or year group, others in your household can legally carry on going to school or work as normal.

If you have blood cancer, an outbreak at your child’s school is bound to make you feel anxious. Speak to your healthcare team and see what they recommend you should do, based on your circumstances. If your child develops symptoms, try to distance from them as much as you can, although that may be very difficult. Follow the general advice on hygiene as strictly as possible – see 'Ways to protect yourself at home' above.

Find out more about what schools should do in the event of an outbreak from the government websites in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There’s a possibility that your child's school may close if the risk level becomes very high in your area, or if there’s an outbreak at the school. In this situation, schools should have plans for how to continue children's education from home.

Join our online community forum

Connect with other people affected by blood cancer who have school-age children. Check out our thread on coronavirus in schools and find people who understand.

https://media.bloodcancer.org.uk/images/person-at-computer-800.2e16d0ba.fill-530x395.jpg

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

Join our mailing list for key updates about coronavirus for people with blood cancer, what we're doing to help, and ways you can help, including campaigns you may be interested in.

Support for you

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 2080 888 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.

Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.

You can also find out what's helping other people affected by blood cancer through coronavirus and beyond in our pages on living well with or after blood cancer.

Sources

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[2] World Health Organisation, Q&A: Schools and COVID-19, https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-schools-and-covid-19, accessed 26 August 2020

[3] Olivia V Swann et al, Clinical characteristics of children and young people admitted to hospital with covid-19 in United Kingdom: prospective multicentre observational cohort study, published 27 August 2020, https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3249, accessed 28 August 2020

[4] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission, published 6 August 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-schools-transmission-August%202020.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

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[9] Laura Heavy, et al. No evidence of secondary transmission of COVID-19 from children attending school in Ireland, 2020, published 28 May, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7268273/, accessed 26 August 2020

[10] Chee Fu Yung et al, Novel Coronavirus 2019 Transmission Risk in Educational Settings, published 25 June 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa794/5862649, accessed 26 August 2020

[11] Prof Kristine Macartney, MD et al. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian educational settings: a prospective cohort study, published 3 August 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30251-0/fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

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[15] Prof Kristine Macartney, MD et al. Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australian educational settings: a prospective cohort study, published 3 August 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30251-0/fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

[16] Juan Pablo Torres, PhD et al, SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence in blood in a large school community subject to a Covid-19 outbreak: a cross-sectional study, published 10 July 2020, https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa955/5869860, accessed 26 August 2020

[17] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission, published 6 August 2020, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/COVID-19-schools-transmission-August%202020.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[18] Public Health England, SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission in educational settings: cross-sectional analysis of clusters and outbreaks in England, published 12 August 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/911267/School_Outbreaks_Analysis.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[19] Chen Stein-Zamir et al, A large COVID-19 outbreak in a high school 10 days after schools’ reopening, Israel, May 2020, published 23 July 2020, https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.29.2001352#html_fulltext, accessed 26 August 2020

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[21] Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, COVID-19 – Research evidence summaries: Transmission https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/resources/covid-19-research-evidence-summaries#transmission, accessed 26 August 2020

[22] Zachary J. Madewell et al. Household transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review and meta-analysis of secondary attack rate, preprint posted 1 August 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.29.20164590v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[23] Pirous Fateh-Moghadam et al, Contact tracing during Phase I of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Province of Trento, Italy: key findings and recommendations, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.20127357v1, accessed 26 August 2020

[24] Young Joon Park et al, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/10/20-1315_article, accessed 26 August 2020

[25] Stefania Bellino, PhD et al, COVID-19 Disease Severity Risk Factors for Pediatric Patients in Italy https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2020/07/16/peds.2020-009399.full.pdf, accessed 26 August 2020

[26] Young Joon Park et al, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020, https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/10/20-1315_article, accessed 26 August 2020

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[28] Pirous Fateh-Moghadam et al, Contact tracing during Phase I of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Province of Trento, Italy: key findings and recommendations, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.16.20127357v1, accessed 26 August 2020

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[32] Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in children aged 0 to 19 years in childcare facilities and schools after their reopening in May 2020, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, published 10 September 2020, https://www.eurosurveillance.org/content/10.2807/1560-7917.ES.2020.25.36.2001587, accessed 14 October 2020

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[39] Forbes H et al, Association Between Living with children and Outcomes from COVID-19:An OpenSAFELY Cohort Study of 12 Million Adults in England, published 2 November 2020, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.11.01.20222315v1, accessed 13 January 2021

[40] Millen, G.C. et al, Severity of COVID-19 in children with cancer: Report from the United Kingdom Paediatric Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project, published10 Decemb er, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41416-020-01181-0, accessed 13 January 2021

[41] SAGE 74 Minutes: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response, 22 December 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/948606/s0991-sage-meeting-74-covid-19.pdf, accessed 13 January 2021

[42] Zhu, Y. et al, A meta-analysis on the role of children in SARS-CoV-2 in household transmission clusters, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa1825, published 6 December 2020 https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa1825, accessed 13 January 2021

[43] Wolz, E. et al, Report 42 - Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 Lineage B.1.1.7 in England: insights from linking epidemiological and genetic data, published 31 December 2020, https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mrc-global-infectious-disease-analysis/covid-19/report-42-sars-cov-2-variant/, accessed January 2021

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